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VIENNA: Despite a painful start weeks ago, international talks to save the Iran nuclear deal have entered the New Year with positive signals emerging, including the EU saying Friday (Jan 14) that a deal remained possible.
There has been a marked shift in tone since the current round began in November, even if the Western powers complain how slow the process is at a time when Iran accelerates its nuclear work.
"There's a better atmosphere since Christmas - before Christmas I was very pessimistic," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday.
"Today I believe reaching an accord is possible," even within the coming weeks, he said after an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brest, France.
Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said earlier this week that efforts by "all parties" to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement had resulted in "good progress" during the Vienna talks.
And Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the negotiations had "accelerated" and that "the chances of reaching a solution have risen".
But French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking next to Borrell on Friday, reiterated his view that the talks were progressing "much too slowly to be able to reach a result".
France currently chairs the EU's rotating presidency.
Continuous negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal resumed on 29 November after they were suspended in June as Iran elected a new, ultraconservative president.
The 2015 deal - agreed by Iran, the United States (under Democratic president Barack Obama), China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme to ensure it would not develop atomic weapons.
But Republican president Donald Trump pulled the US out in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.
Determined to revive the deal, Trump's successor Joseph Biden, a Democrat who was Obama's vice president, sent an American delegation to Vienna to participate indirectly in the talks.
European diplomats have been shuttling between the talks venue at a luxury hotel and where the US team is based.
US State Department Ned Price said on Wednesday that although there had been "modest progress in recent weeks" this was "not sufficient" to secure a return to the deal.
The main aims of the talks ar...